updates: not being the boss, the commute anxiety, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are five updates from past letter-writers.

1. How do I adjust to not being the boss anymore?

I took to heart what you and the commenters said about taking advantage of this moment to relax and step back. I did and it’s been….amazing. A lot of my need to urgently resolve issues was from a feeling of guilt from my previous role – because if I didn’t resolve issues, who would? I’m still getting used to delegating and not just doing things myself, because it feels like such an undeserved luxury to be able to do that. Doing so though has allowed me to find time for other things – particularly after hours. I’ve started getting engaged in my children’s schools (which I never had time for before), take hikes on the weekends, gardening, excercise and just goofing off and watching terrible movies (I love this).

During my work hours, I’ve found that because my previous job required me to be so hyper-efficient, I can do the bulk of my critical work in my current job in 2-3 days in a given week. This gives me the flexibility to use the remaining time to sit in on trainings, help with resource building, and attend non-critical, but interesting meetings. I take long breaks throughout the day, and take runs during my lunch break or pause to spend some time with my kids or change the laundry (I am working remote).

Most critically though, this approach has paid off not just for my mental and physical health, but my work product. My group just received significant media coverage for one of our programs, and separately, public praise from the higher ups on how well we are doing. So being a bit at leisure has not negatively impacted my work product or the group I manage, in fact it’s worked out well for everyone.

2. The commute to my new job makes me too anxious

The first few weeks of commuting were how I expected it would be. I was very tense and uncomfortable. However, my driving improved quickly as I became familiar with the area. I figured out alternative routes and times when traffic was low. I brought this up to my manager and I was given permission to come in early and leave early, as long as I achieved 8 hours everyday. My discussion with my manager also led to them deciding that the whole team should do remote work on Fridays. In the end, both my coworkers and I benefited from it. Thank you so much for the advice!

3. Our new entry-level coworker thinks he’s our boss

I wrote to you a few months ago about a project manager who thinks he is the boss of all of us. A lot of people commented that the duties that I described were indeed project manager duties. That helped; I realized that at other companies his behavior might be seen as appropriate. So I softened in my attitude toward him, even though what he was doing in our company was indeed not appropriate.

However, he has continued telling his superiors what to do in meetings, correct people when he has no business correcting (he scheduled a meeting with one woman who is definitely above him on the hierarchy, and the entire meeting with him telling her things she was doing wrong in her job), and just in general making things worse, not better.

He is now on a PIP and I don’t know how long he’s going to last.

4. Haven’t heard back about a volunteer position (#2 at the link)

Back in 2017 I wrote to you about a volunteer manager not responding to my application for a volunteer position at a nonprofit.

I took your advice and emailed my contact at the organization one more time. She responded and CC’ed the volunteer manager, who never got back to me, so I let it go. A few months later, the volunteer manager sent out a mass recruitment email for the position I had applied for. I felt very annoyed and did not reapply, mostly because I didn’t feel I had the bandwidth at that time to handle the position.

Funnily enough, I’m now a volunteer coordinator at a different nonprofit. It turns out what you said about volunteer programs being stretched really thin is way more accurate than I ever realized (I’m a team of one managing a volunteer base of thousands, and yes, I am burnt out). I’m sure I’ve ghosted volunteers the way I was ghosted years ago. The moral here is, don’t judge a volunteer manager unless you’ve walked a mile in their shoes (which let’s face it, they probably had to buy on discount).

Thanks for the years of solid advice and entertainment!

5. Replacing a beloved employee who died (#2 at the link)

A drama-free update: I took your advice and when we got down to our final candidate, let her know why the position was open. If she’d have asked sooner, I would’ve told her of course, but it didn’t come up until the offer stage. She appreciated the heads up and all of her interactions with the spouse of my previous employee (and everyone else) were appropriate, respectful and professional.

Unfortunately, she left for another position more in line with her training and overall career goals after about a month, so the position is open again. I’ll definitely be keeping your advice in mind as we search for another replacement.

{ 114 comments… read them below }

  1. LizB*

    #3 – I wish we could know whether the project manager’s supervisor sat him down and gave him a really clear explanation of his role and where he was overstepping, and how that conversation went! The original letter seemed like such a clear case of miscommunication or mismatched expectations. If he’s on a PIP I would assume he’s now had it all spelled out for him, and he’s still not quite getting with the program.

    1. What She Said*

      I was wondering the same thing. Is it now that he really hasn’t understood the differences in his former positions and this one after someone spelled it out for him?? To keep going after being told there is a difference and knock it off is crazy. I could see an occasional slip here and there but not all the time still.

      1. Ama*

        The part where he called a meeting with someone who was clearly above him in the hierarchy to tell her everything she was doing wrong (and not, say, a peer that he might have been confused that he was managing like in the original letter) makes me think this guy is just an arrogant know-it-all.

        1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

          Yes. Correcting a superior is not project management. It’s simply arrogant.

        2. PM*

          I am a PM and have had meetings with people 2 levels higher than me in the org about how specific behaviors are not helpful to the team, or with someone who never came to meetings prepared, or with someone whose timelines were never accurate and caused the team to miss deadlines.

          Things that are impacting the team’s morale or performance is pretty clearly in the PM job description, though the approach is usually soft and major behavior issues are handled by the Lead.

          It sounds like this particular PM is a bit aggressive (it’s very important to get the tone right as you don’t have hire/fire type authority), but I also wonder if that is multiplied by how no one at the company respects what his job actually is and everyone is butting heads.

          1. Myrin*

            This is not a case of “no one at the company respect[ing] what his job actually is” – the company gets to decide what any one job title it uses means and he doesn’t get to waltz in and decide that no, actually, THIS is his job and everyone not going along with it is disrespecting him.

          2. OP of the SC*

            I am the letter-writer. At my office, we have probably 10 PMs. In my decade-plus of working there, our PMs have assumed traffic-type positions. After writing my original letter I’ve learned project managers have more power in other places. You make a good point that if it affects the team, a PM might normally be able to course-correct a person, but it’s not what we do here, so it shocked the person who got the call. And yes. He is very abrupt. Very.

            Since writing the first letter, I’ve tried to talk to him and my sympathy is with the guy. He HAS been told by our director, in no uncertain terms, what he can and cannot do, but he is saddled with an inability to see how he comes across. I’ve let him know how our culture is (hip, everything’s cool agency attitude, which is sort of phony but at least we are nice to each other in the surface) and that he needs to adapt to that if he wants to make all the changes he hopes to make.

            Truthfully he might be good for us but he needs to rein that approach way in.

          3. JB*

            It’s very silly to continue behaving as if you don’t understand that this company uses ‘project manager’ to mean a different role than what you are used to.

            When you visit a Disney park, do you feel comfortable approaching a ‘cast member’ (the label used for their park employees) with a question? Or would you avoid doing that out of disrespect for what their position ‘actually is’, since ‘cast member’ usually means someone engaging in a performance?

          4. Meep*

            I have mixed feelings about this too. But that is mainly because I had to tell someone several rungs above me in the hierarchy that her continued behavior was not only unprofessional but unethical and was very close to getting the company as a whole sued. (Think sexual harassment, disparaging comments about people’s medical conditions – which she spread like gossip, and otherwise creating a hostile work environment). I have had various points had to stand up for myself as she pushed my boundaries and was downright verbally and psychologically abusive to me (not that it has helped – she just blames someone else for treating me horribly). And unfortunately, we are tiny so this nightmare of a 60 yo woman is “HR”.

            When I finally pushed back against her strange obsession with my uterus and ovaries (she kept insisting every time I was sick that I was pregnant, told me I was ovulating because I had a fever (and a cough), and would make snippy comments about how I was “hormonal” and on my period every time I called her out for treating me abysmally), it was definitely more aggressive then it needed to be! Because I was over it.

            I have also been on the other side of it where a new guy came in thinking he was going to call all the shots but didn’t know anything.

            Sometimes, it IS definitely warranted, and the aggression is understandable even if it is reasonable. In this case, it doesn’t feel particularly like it was. Considering she is a woman and he is a man, I have a feeling that the way it came off as more than just “frustrated”.

        3. Nanani*

          I wonder if he’s the type to assume women must be assistants and secretaries and couldn’t possibly be senior to him…

    2. kevcat*

      I was very much on Team This-Guy-Has-Issues-That-You-Can’t-Solve on that post. The comments struggled a lot with trying to define whether he misunderstood his role or had an overinflated sense of his own importance and power — partially due to cultural differences and incompatible definitions of his job title — but some behaviors are universal.

      That Effing is always gonna be That Effing Guy, unfortunately.

      1. kevcat*

        Oh, the pain of not being able to edit your own comment because proofreading is hard.

        *That Effing Guy

    3. Seriously?*

      I’m eating and originally read PIP as VP and was like, what?!!! I’ve been in education not business but don’t you have to have meetings before a PIP is formally used?

      1. Lost academic*

        Nope. In theory HR would ask the line manager if they’d had those but I worked at a large multinational firm where depending on who it was making stuff up was accepted and “the truth wasn’t important”.

        1. Anonmom*

          You have to/should have performance conversations before a PIP. If not, you are blindsiding associates

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        We don’t know they did not — OP wasn’t directly their manager and wouldn’t be in a position to know what led to the PIP.
        Honestly by my company’s standard OP shouldn’t even know about the PIP.

        1. KayDeeAye*

          That’s my organization’s standard, too. Unless Inflated Job Guy told the OP, they should not know about the PIP or any disciplinary meetings that preceded the PIP.

      3. A Feast of Fools*

        I worked at a global, Fortune 5 software company where PIPs *were* the meeting/conversation.

        I was completely blind-sided the first time I was put on one. I had no idea that I was failing in any of my metrics. When I asked why there wasn’t a conversation ahead of time giving me a chance to course-correct, they said, “That’s what this PIP is.”

        When I pointed out that it had a 30-day “Fix Everything Or Get Fired” clause they just blandly shrugged and said, “Yes, you should be able to make these changes within 30 days.”

        I asked around, and every single person in my dozens-of-people department had been on PIPs multiple times.

        “We’re seriously considering firing you, enough to put it in writing” was their sole management tool.

    4. tamarack and fireweed*

      Back then when this was first posted I was wondering if this might be a case of two things being true simultaneously:

      a) The job description did in fact correspond to a mid-career to fairly senior project manager, and this is the assumption the candidate was legitimately operating under given the information he was given.
      b) The new employee has the unpleasant tendency to stretch beyond his actual level of seniority, whichever it is, and to assume more authority than reasonable. (Be it inability to pick up clues, or unwillingness to fit into the assigned seniority level.)

      The discussion sounded to me too much as if it had to be one XOR (exclusive or) the other when it may well be both.

    5. anonymous73*

      That was my first thought as well. I never saw the original letter or the comments, but as a PM myself, it is certainly not what I would describe as an entry level position. Yes there are different levels based on years of experience and you can be an entry level PM, but I don’t see the role of PM generally as an entry level position that someone would jump into right out of college.

      I’ve also found that the role of PM is not always the same for everyone and it sounds as if the role responsibilities were not made clear to the new guy. If he’s telling everyone what to do in all aspects of their jobs, not just in regard to the projects he’s managing, then yes he’s overstepping. But the job of a PM is generally to keep everyone in line on a project. It sounds like a lot of miscommunication, with a bit of arrogance thrown in for good measure.

      1. Candi*

        The comments on the original post pointed out that Project Manager, as it’s commonly used in most companies, is not the job that the OP described Fergus as being hired for, which would be below and actually often report to a PM.

        So to compound everything, the company is using a label outside of its currently common understanding, which did not help matters, regardless of how poor Fergus’ personality is.

  2. X-Man*

    I’ve been really wanting an update to #3!

    However I feel like we’re still missing the crucial point: Was he told he actually isn’t anybody’s manager? That still seems to be the source of the confusion and disconnect.

    1. Software Dev*

      I feel like if you’re going to have a meeting with anyone to tell them they’re bad at their job, you should be /really/ sure you’re their direct manager.

      1. Anonmom*

        Am I the only one reading this that feels that a project manager role is tough, and often involves moving work forward by holding others accountable, whether that person is at the same or a higher level? Would not mind hearing specifics on this associates “overstep” and why they are on a PIP

        1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          Well, in my experience working as a project manager and working with project manager, that is what a project manager role is all about. Everyone knows what the team/company is working towards, so a good PM isn’t responsible for forcing people to do their jobs (my words, not yours) and more making sure everyone knows the downstream impacts of their choices.

          Taking an example from my own experience, “Well, you can choose to ignore that report the Otter Cuddling Department sent for your review; however, that was for a major client, so that will harm our relationship with them. If you decide that, please share that decision so we stop devoting resources to it.”

          And, yes, it’s a difficult job and takes a specific skill set and demeanor (including refraining from berating anyone).

        2. Tara R.*

          I’ve worked with quite a few PMs, in the more traditional set up where they have some authority and expectation of taking charge, and I would still have been shocked to be pulled into a 1 on 1 meeting to be told everything that I’m doing wrong. In my experience, PMs raise their concerns in group settings. Something like “We need to respond to incidents within 2 business days. This one wasn’t responded to for almost a week– how did that slip through the cracks and how can we avoid it happening again?” Maybe everyone knows that it was Fergus’s job to check in on that, but if the PM is talking about it then it’s more about the overall process, the team, and whether there needs to be better checks and balances in place.

          If the conversation is “Fergus specifically is bad at his job and needs to do better”, that’s a conversation for Fergus’s actual manager to have with him. I assume that PMs raise those things to managers behind the scenes and there’s probably a conversation between them, but I’ve never been somewhere where they would have the authority to tell someone off individually to that extent. “Hey Jane, please make sure your tickets are getting updated, I didn’t realize that was on qa” is fine, “Jane you’re late with every single deliverable, you need to stop spending half the day on facebook” is a direct manager thing.

          1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

            “If the conversation is ‘Fergus specifically is bad at his job and needs to do better’, that’s a conversation for Fergus’s actual manager to have with him.”

            That’s a great illustration! I have also experienced the PM having the role/responsibility to note processes that need changing, which in my mind isn’t authority.
            It tends to be less “We’re doing it this way” (what I feel is authority) and more “If we do this, we’ll be riding on rainbows!!” (with a subtextual, “We’re doing it this way, but I’m framing it as though this is a suggestion because it’s easier than dealing with your egos”).

            …I’m not bitter, you’re bitter!

          2. LizM*

            I’ve been a project manager, and that’s exactly how it worked in my organization.

            If we were in danger of missing a deadline, I’d explain to leadership that if Fergus missed this deadline (like he’d missed every deadline to that point) how that’d impact the project.

            Sometimes they had already decided that Fergus’s other project was a higher priority and I was told to adjust the schedule. Sometimes they got a furrowed brow, I noticed Fergus working late for a couple of nights in a row, and his report made it in with 5 minutes to spare.

          3. Mr. Shark*

            Yes, this exactly. I work on a lot of different projects, with many PMs. And when there is an issue with my work, first they take it up with me. If I don’t reply, then they escalate it to my manager.
            They have no actual “power” over me since we are in different teams, basically. There isn’t really a hierarchy between us. But they can’t sit me down and tell me how to do my job or if I’m not doing my job. They just report the expectations as we agreed upon, and if I’m not meeting them, they’ll escalate.
            As for specifically telling me what I’m doing wrong, they don’t have that knowledge to dictate my work, just the expectation of when it needs to be completed.

        3. anonymous73*

          Nope, not the only one. Honestly it sounds like they need to change the title of the role. IME a PM is not an entry level, right out of college type of role. I am a PM and have been working for 25 years (granted I started as a developer, then a BA, and then a PM), but this all sounds like a hot mess because the OP and company were not clear about responsibilities.

          1. Myrin*

            Honestly it sounds like they need to change the title of the role.

            OP doesn’t mention that there’s ever been any problems with any of the other project managers misunderstanding what their role is. If there were, maybe a title change would be a good idea.

            She also doesn’t say that there isn’t a job description explaining exactly the scope of this role. If there weren’t, maybe a title change would be a good idea.

            In the original letter’s comment section, quite a few people (especially in government, if I recall correctly) said that the OP’s description of PM falls in line with how it works in their organisation as well. If it weren’t and this were really the singular definition for this title worldwide, maybe a title change would be a good idea.

            As it stands, as long as the company is clear about what this role entails – and make no mistake, just because this guy behaves the way he does does not mean that the company was lacking clarity; rather, it seemed to me like he simply wants things to be a certain way and then behaves as if they actually are – it could be called “Alpaca Smuggler” or “Sneeze Wrestler” and he would have to accept that.

            1. Candi*

              I read through that comment section (yes, all of them -I was bored and procrastinating on an easy but annoying assignment), and less than a third of the commentators said that their company or department uses PM the same way OP’s company does. The title may be used that way, but it’s far from common.

              However, the attitude is a no-go no matter what, and once things were clarified, whether at the beginning or after pulling him up, his continued jerkitude and overstepping is just not acceptable.

              1. Myrin*

                I didn’t say it was common – I said “a few people” (re-reading, I see that a “quite” snuck in there, which was not my intent) but the actual number seems pretty irrelevant to me; what matters is that there was a number greater than one who were familiar with exactly what OP meant.

        4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          It is certainly not for me. In an old job (early 00s), my managers noticed that I was organized and good at staying on top of tasks for their whole life cycle, pulling other people in and working cross-team as needed etc, and wanted to grow me into a PM. Put me on a project with a real PM to help me along so I could give it a try. It was a glorified admin role, except I wasn’t a real PM on that project, so it wasn’t I that was in trouble if it fell behind. I did not like it at all! Friends that I had in the field, told me something like “what did you expect? Didn’t you know that PM means all of the responsibility and none of the authority?” Project managers have all of my sympathy, not my type of work at all.

    2. Eden*

      Maybe the guy’s manager is super horrible but if they’re not, we should assume that yes, he was told what to stop doing at some point, given that he was placed on a PIP.

  3. SpicySpice*

    OP #2, I am super proud of you. Not only did you stick it out until your anxiety improved, but you made tangible differences for your team! Rock on! I have major driving anxiety and I absolutely adjust my work hours to miss the rush hours, so I feel you.

  4. Can Can Cannot*

    With regard to #3, I’m surprised that he hasn’t quit on his own. The job was advertised as a PM position, but it was so far off the norms for a PM role that it appeared to be a bit of bait and switch. Given the current job market, there are probably better opportunities from a career progression perspective.

    1. Zona the Great*

      Me too but only because it is usually pretty obvious that one is headed to termination in every government agency I’ve worked for. The PM role the OP described is similar to what a PM does in my agency.

    2. PT*

      He could be bait and switched and also be an asshole, which is why he’s not getting jobs more in line with his experience.

      1. Annika Hansen*

        Yes, that was my thought. It could easily be both! My department has a project manager who is also a condescending asshole. I could totally see him doing this stuff.

      1. Anonmom*

        Clarifying I agree with the original comment. A PM role is not easy and it seems this company does not understand the norm expectations aligned with this role.

    3. BRR*

      The title is project manager but we don’t actually know what the job description is. We just don’t have enough information. But the letter can’t be approached with only one definition of project manager.

  5. Lady Danbury*

    #1 is exactly what I want for my next role. I went from running a department to my own consultant company and now I just want to be an individual contributor and not manage anyone, with all of the work/life benefits that come with that. Great update!

  6. Anonymous Hippo*

    #1 was good for me to read today. I’m in the middle of working out a transition out of my department and my manager role and into a role where I’ll be an individual contributor. I feel like I’m not being all I can be by taking this step back, but I really want the benefits the OP is describing.

    1. After 33 years ...*

      #1: I was department Head until January 2021. Now, I’m a regular faculty member again, moving towards retirement next year. I’ve found the transition from “being Head” to “working with new Head” to “gradually reducing responsibilities” to be useful preparation for the forthcoming changes in lifestyle and daily schedule (or the lack of same). I’ve also found that I can contribute more to discussing matters that aren’t necessarily urgent, but can benefit from more relaxed contemplation over time.
      Best of luck in your new role!

    2. Anonym*

      Does it help to think of being all you can be more holistically, and not just as job achievement? A well balanced, fulfilling life can be the greater goal if you want it to be. And I think it’s actually harder to do, so there’s that…

      I’m going into a minor version of this (it’s a step up, but a much narrower scope than my current role), and I’m preparing to grapple with the ego hit of losing that weird “I do a MILLION things for a GLOBAL product” pride. I look forward to being able to focus and deliver great work by not putting out other people’s fires all the time.

      It was super great and inspiring to read OP#1’s update. Congrats, OP, and thanks for showing us what that road can look like! Wishing you continued happiness!

      1. Anonymous Hippo*

        That is exactly how I’m looking at it. Everything else in my life has been at a virtual standstill since I started this role 2.5 years ago. And that’s not ok with me. Being a CFO one day isn’t worth it if that’s literally all I am.

        The thing that makes it the most scary is it is completely out of my department, because there is not way they would ever let me step back if I was still there…so I’m leaving for a completely different department in the same company. I know people will take it as a betrayal, but my mental and physical health are starting to suffer and I have to step back, and if leaving finance is the only way then that’s what I have to do.

    3. Slider*

      I am in the exact same situation at the moment – I’m trying not to see it as a step back or a step down (which it technically is) and more a slide along the moveable feast that is the career squiggle into something that, at this particular moment in my life, aligns more with what I need and want out of a job. Hard at times though.

  7. GreyjoyGardens*

    Re OP #4: I can well believe that volunteer managers are stretched as thin as boards and management can get away with it. It occurs to me that so many of the flashy “Let’s Volunteer For A Day” type of events that companies organize would be better served by having people go in and update mailing lists and clean out databases, rather than some of the more flashy and camera-friendly endeavors that seem to take up the lion’s share of such efforts. Getting my (deceased) mom’s name taken off a mailing list of a small nonprofit that she was once a donor for was more effort on my part than I like to think about.

    Having “once a year volunteers” clean up mailing lists would probably be a bigger help than one can imagine. At any rate, it sucks to both be the ghosted volunteer and the volunteer manager desperately trying to put out fire after fire.

    1. CoveredinBees*

      I was a grant writer and so many corporate foundations refused to give us money because they required us to create and run “hands on” volunteer options for their employees. Despite their foundation claiming to be deeply interested in the issue we addressed. These weren’t even huge grants so much of the money would have been eaten up with having to put on their volunteer dog and pony show.

    2. D*

      LW #4 here. Thank you for not judging me too harshly for struggling to keep up with everything. I loathe one-time volunteer opportunities. Lol

      1. Dwight Schrute*

        One time volunteer opportunities are far more hassle than they’re worth IMO. They just create more work for the org without actually providing much help

      2. Marspar*

        Hello LW #4 – I love what you said here! I am very involved in an nonprofit professional organization and at one point I was in a non-paid leadership role that sucked up as much time as a job. It was great for me at the time to pivot my career (and is how I got my current job) but it was SOOO hard managing a revolving door of volunteers that I needed to keep my programs running. My husband joked that when I ended up with an actual full-time job I was less busy than the volunteer gig. So I hear you!

        Definitely managing volunteers is a special burden that most people don’t understand – they are doing important work for the organization, but since they are giving their time, there is only so much you can push if they are not doing a good job. And they can quit on you at any time.

        Since you are burned out – sounds like it’s time to look for a new position. With your great skills, I bet you can find something more rewarding. Good luck!

    3. KandCompany*

      This! I was the Outreach coordinator for a small nonprofit (handled volunteers, grants, marketing, mailing, helping transport clients, and literally anything else needed). The holy grail was grants that would help cover current operating expenses INCLUDING payroll. The worst were “we’ll give you a thousand dollars, but our office staff has to come and volunteer”. Those projects always required us to spend more than the given funds, and often the additional cost was repairing or fixing what the unqualified volunteers had broken.

      I regularly had volunteers call to follow up on applications that I hadn’t had time to consider, they were understandably frustrated but I literally didn’t have time even with putting in I clocked hours. Then once I did process the applications, everyone wanted to work directly with clients not help out in our office where we really needed it. Most, despite meaning well, weren’t qualified to work with clients (minors in foster care with significant trauma) and we had to turn them away. We offered volunteer positions in the office instead, and they almost always refused or agreed but showed up once and never returned. Stuffing and labeling 250 envelopes just wasn’t as glamorous as they hoped. It was beyond exhausting. So many good intentions created so much more work and stress. The only upside was it made me much more conscientious about giving and volunteering in my personal life. And whenever possible I give money with no strings, because that’s what most people/organizations really need.

      1. mooncake*

        WOW, I could have written almost this exact comment! This kind of work is most of my current job. It takes a team of 3 to handle volunteer interest for a relatively small org (also working with youth in foster care). Can’t imagine a team of 1 for volunteers over 1,000.

    4. Max*

      My job is providing database support for a group of nonprofits and yeah, having more people able to clean up the data would be great. Especially if the nonprofit has been around long enough to go from paper records to a first database to a second one to a third or fourth, the information is in a pretty sorry state. I’m sorry it took so much effort to have your late mom’s name removed – I will say that one of the good things about where I work is our software makes that process fairly simple, though admittedly that assumes people are paying attention and listening to what donors tell them.

    5. J*

      This is so true. I was given permission to send newsletter emails because the development team for my nonprofit only sent them to solicit funds and someone needed to recruit volunteers. They were having more than 50% of emails rejected for various reasons. I’ve done the bare minimum of curation on their lists, locating people who switched firms or graduated from college and sent them “do you still want to stay on this list?” emails to their new addresses (which about 30% have said yes which shocked me at being that high). But even so, I’m finding people who died 8 years ago.

      They had an old software, they upgraded software and transferred old data without checking it, then uploaded it to an email newsletter software without updating it or even checking for formatting errors and just sent emails to everyone without curation. And this is a long-time millions and millions of dollars nonprofit. Really we should hire staff to do this but we’re horribly managed so they won’t and soon I won’t be doing it when my grant expires.

  8. MyGoingConcern*

    For #3, the comments on the original post & some of the ones here are more baffling to me than That Guy’s behavior. I don’t understand the obsession with arguing over what The Real Official Standardized Worldwide meaning of “project manager” is. What matters is this role as defined in this organization. Titles are almost never standardized across organizations outside of a few professions, and unless this guy was hired with no job description (when does that happen with an entry level position in a large org?) or HR process, how things are done in other companies, industries or countries is utterly irrelevant. The LW was extremely clear that the activities & behavior were totally inappropriate for *this* role in *this* organization. Why were so many comments focused on arguing that point instead of actually addressing the question? Some of them were almost gaslight-y, trying to portray the coworker as actually the only sane, correct one involved who understood what a project manager should be while everyone else at the org was just confused.

    1. Velawciraptor*

      THANK YOU!!!!

      Not to mention the fact that since he’s now on a PIP, it’s even harder to believe that there’s been no documented notification of what is and is not expected of him and accepted from him. All this eagerness to disbelieve OP or discount her knowledge of her company because “that’s not what I think that means” is unusual for this commentariat, and I hope comes to a stop quickly.

      1. Anonmom*

        No one is gaslighting or doing that. I think there is a misunderstanding on roles. If I am managing a project it is my job to get it to the finish line. I just don’t get the complaints in this one. But a person’s approach could make this bad. So if the associate OP is dealing with is cocky or rude, that make sense. But, like I have seen, a VP is not responding or making it difficult to work to things forward, then not a PM issue just business incompetence covered up by power. I have seen projects go bad and PM blamed bc of this

        1. MyGoingConcern*

          The problem absolutely seemed to be a misunderstanding of roles (though the update suggests it’s at least a somewhat willful one)… the new employee misunderstood his new role. The whole point of the letter was that LW’s new coworker seemed to have an incorrect understanding of his new role at the company and LW was asking for advice on how & when to correct that.

          But a huge portion of the comments were focused on arguing that it was the LW and the LW’s org that misunderstood the role they hired Fergus for instead of the other way around, or that the LW was wrong that Fergus’s behavior didn’t fit the specific role in LW’s specific organization. I’m just perplexed why the commentariat seemed so determined to convince the LW of that. Out of the random internet commenters, new hire Fergus, and the LW, why would anyone assume the LW knows the least about this organization’s structure and culture or how Fergus was treating more senior coworkers?

    2. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      I agree with the general thrust of your comment; the only piece I disagree with is applying the term “gaslight”, as that important term is being diluted.

      I would describe those comments as close-minded, willfully ignorant, and/or a weird blindspot for titles. For example, in my experience as a project manager and working for them, I am surprised by the assumption I saw that a project manager is the default decision-maker. As I commented above, my role has always been more about second-order thinking and letting decision makers know the consequences of different paths they’re considering in a project.

      Checking on the status to know the timeline and where the pieces are? Totally in-line with what I do. Trying to force people to adhere to the timeline or make them change how they work/prioritize? Yeah, not in a million years.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        This right here. In the places I have worked the project manager was more of a coordinator or facilitator type role. Maybe even an interdepartmental liaison type of role if multiple departments were involved. They kept everyone aware of deadlines, they helped with possible outcomes of decisions – but they weren’t ever an actual Manager with any authority to hire/fire/discipline other employees.
        They could however call all hands project meetings – but I only saw that “big stick” pulled out once where three departments were all arguing about which one was responsible for item “Zed” in the project. The PM pulled them all into a room to see if putting them all in one place would undo the gordian knot (remarkably it did as the CEO decided to drop in and find out why he had a conference room full of screaming banshees down the hall from his office).

        1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          Yeah, the visual I’ve been thinking for a project manager role is dominoes (the kind where they’re lined up and knocked down in cool patterns). More senior the PM, the more complex a project they work on.

          An entry level person would be able to setuo a line of dominoes, maybe with one branch, with the line knocking into two lines (ooooh).

          A more senior person would have the skills to setup a dominoe show where the lines go up and down stairs and make cool patterns.

          A really, really senior person would be setting up a dominoe show like that scene in the animated film, “Robot.” Surfing!

          I do think it’s normal that a PM can also be a Manager with hire/fire responsibilities, but generally of others on the PM track.

    3. nodramalama*

      Yeah i agree, people are very hung up on what one would generally expect a project manager to be, rather than how it was communicated in the company. considering LW works with Fergus and presumably knows the company, they know what is normal expected behaviour and what is overstepping.

    4. PM*

      Would you take the same approach if they hired an accountant and then were mad when he was trying to balance the books? And would you complain in the same way when all the CPAs and people who have worked with accountants went to the comments say “that’s not weird, that is exactly what CPAs are supposed to do”?

      This company is welcome to define things however they want, but that’s not a mistake on everyone who knows what 99% of PMs are supposed to do, and what the actual definition of the job is everywhere else.

      1. PM*

        My read of it is:
        – this company and the OP don’t understand what a PM is supposed to do and just thought they would hire a manager to just…do whatever needs to be done for their project subordinately
        – the PM in the original letter understands what a PM is supposed to be
        – the PM in the original letter is not good at his job (maybe because he’s an asshole, or frustrated, or their project is in really bad shape, who knows) and should work elsewhere

        1. Myrin*

          The gall to state that neither the company who created this job and its title nor the OP who has worked there for decades understand what a project manager does in their own organisation is quite frankly utterly baffling to me. What’s your goal here?

          1. Ori*

            It’s not about what a project manager does *in their organisation*. Job titles, while they vary, do typically denote a specific set of duties. You have every right to redefine that but you can’t then be shocked and surprised that the rest of the world didn’t get the memo.

            1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

              Wait, what…? Why is it “not about what a project manager does *in their organisation*”?

              I’m very confused. How is a question about one’s workplace…not about one’s workplace? It sounds like you’re saying how the rest of the world interprets a title matters more for LW3, which make zero sense to me.

              1. Ori*

                Nope. In this specific situation he is obligated to either adapt or leave. However I am *also* saying that if you define a common job title very differently to the majority of companies, you can’t then complain when candidates misunderstand that.

                1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

                  Hm…I disagree with you on that. If the issue was something like, “Candidates are assuming the job is X, but it’s really Y, how can we help our candidate pool self-select”, then I agree what you’re saying applies.

                  But when the situation involves an employee and they’ve been told what their role is and is not (as LW3 shared in their update and some replies to the comments in this thread), how other companies use that title isn’t applicable anymore. At that point, it doesn’t matter how other companies define “____” title. So, the New Hire trying to make this company change the way they define the ten people in the role is just…weird.

                2. Analytical Tree Hugger*

                  P.S. As I read through the thread, I’m realizing I may be responding to a different line of thinking than @Ori.

                  I’m responding to the idea that New Hire is correct in trying to make the company change the role (which is what Myrin is confused by, because…why does the rest of the world get to dictate to the company about how to title?), whereas maybe @Ori responding more to @PM’s argument that a project manager is a defined thing.

                  I still disagree that a project manager is a defined thing, also as evidenced by discussions in this thread, the original, and others about the fluidity of titles.

                3. Ori*

                  @Analytical Tree Hugger – yeah, I don’t think he has any standing to change the role. At all.

                  I do think that job titles typically have at least somewhat agreed duties within fields though.

                  I do have personal feelings around this though. I’ve been bait and switched twice, and in one case the actual job bore almost no resemblance to the advert / interview.

                  (I also personally think the phrase ‘any other duties’ needs to die. If the job involves social media or customer service, say so).

        2. Why did I go to library school?*

          I have had the same title at three different jobs over the past few years. The duties that each job entailed did overlap in some areas, obviously. However, these duties were also VASTLY different in scope, authority, and just general day-to-day tasks, thanks to the idiosyncrasies of each place (size of the institution, budget, management’s personalities and priorities, the general vibe of the office, etc). Frankly, someone deciding that one of those jobs was wrong to have the title it did would be really weird to me.

          I feel like it’s also weird to decide that OP’s company is wrong about what a PM is “supposed to be,” especially when the multiple discussions about the topic on original letter (IMO) points towards there being different understandings of the role.

      2. Simply the best*

        Most jobs I’ve had came with a job description. Not just a title I was supposed to use to guess my duties. If the job description this PM was given didn’t match up with what he thought a project manager should be, that’s his problem for taking the job.

        1. Analytical Tree Hugger*


          Though the idea of applying for a job posting that only lists a title is a bit hilarious. I’m imagining an interview where the company is all cloak-and-dagger about the actual job responsibilities, then the on-boarding is all the HR and IT stuff, but not actually introducing you to anyone…

        2. Ori*

          Eh. Job descriptions are often vague and non comprehensive. There are a ton of companies where the phrase ‘any other related duties’ gets stretched to breaking point.

        3. Critical Roll*

          Right? I’ve seen plenty of positions where the job title is so vague you would have no chance of figuring out what it actually entailed without the description.

      3. MyGoingConcern*

        PM as a CPA… I would find it weird if they hired an accountant in a role that was responsible for accounts payable data entry and the guy decided he got to call senior staff to task for their budgeting process, which is more equivalent to this scenario. Job descriptions and actual expectations for a role exist for a reason and are far more important than generic titles; the title Accountant covers a whole host of potential duties and what matters is what the specific company expects of that specific role. Employees are expected to do the job they’re hired for, not the one they think they should get to do.

        Your comment is a fantastic example of what I’m finding so baffling. I understand you have a very clear, singular vision of what a project manager does, but that just isn’t what this job at LW’s company is, so your definition is utterly irrelevant in this scenario. LW described the job – an entry level position responsible for coordinating projects with no authority over other employees or supervisory capacity – and that definition is simply the reality for LW and her coworkers. There is zero info to suggest that the company is confused about what a project manager does (or should do) *at their organization* and LW’s letter suggests that this is not a new or unique position in the organization. Why get hung up on arguing about that reality just because that’s not the title you’d choose for this position?

        1. Myrin*

          Let me just say that I agree with all of your comments and I applaud the eloquence and calm you’re using to express them!

        2. anonymous73*

          I get what you’re saying, but there are some things that are unclear to me. As a PM myself, I realize that not all PMs do the exact same thing and different companies define the role in their own way. Some of the duties described in the original letter are typical of a PM, but the thing that doesn’t make sense to me is entry level. If he was an experienced PM, I would think that the entry level aspect would have been discussed because that would be a step down. It’s not clear in the original letter or the update if the specific duties were defined and agreed upon, or if after working there he was told of the expectations, ignored them and was subsequently put on a PIP. We see A LOT of letters on here where managers/companies are passive aggressive and talk around what they want/need. Yes we are to take LWs at their word here, but to me there are some key things missing.

          1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

            I’m not sure I understand your comment about the entry-level piece and when/how the role was explained. What about that would change your advice to LW3?

            In the abstract, I completely agree with you that passive-aggressiveness is an all too common issue when hiring and managing; that said, I’m not seeing how it’s relevant to LW3’s issues, i.e., “How do I deal with the New Hire drawing way outside of the lines of their role?”

          2. Stevie*

            I do feel like it’s possible that the new hire took the job, knowing that it’s entry-level, and thought maybe he could mold it into a higher-level one. Or maybe he was trying to get his foot in the door for positions in the area, so to speak, as he relocated for this. Of course, this is all speculation, and I so wish I could know his thought process.

      4. I'm Just Here for the Cats*

        I don’t understand why people are so upset and arguing over the title STILL. It doesn’t matter what the title of the job is. It could be the king of Northern norwhals or cat wrangler. A title is a made up thing that is usually specific to an organization and doesn’t matter as much as the job duties. in this organization the project manager was an entry-level position with no people managing.

        Titles really don’t matter much. Take for example my old title of University Services Associate. If I were to search for jobs with that title I could find everything from student support to coordinator of student housing. all of these have the same title as mine and those are not my job duties. What my university calls a University services associate is an administrative assistant in other places.

        We do not know if he had prior project manager experience if he was PMP certified or anything else. It doesn’t matter because according to the LW he was not doing the duties as the job description showed. Either the guy didn’t understand his role, and/or he was a big jerk and thought he could manage up or something. I still half think that because the LW’s boss was no longer there that he thought he could become the boss.

      5. I'm Just Here for the Cats*

        The thing is if you hired someone with the title accountant and they are balancing the books, but their job is really data entry it doesn’t matter what he is called. Yes Project managers USUALLY have similar job duties but this LW’s office Project Manager means something different with a different set of duties.

        Plus a PM typically doesn’t call in their higher up and tell them how they are doing their entire job wrong Because the higher up would have authority, not the PM.

    5. Ori*

      Probably because we’ve all been in positions where we *have* been bait and switched, and the switch wasn’t necessarily in the job description.

  9. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

    I believed that the PM didn’t understand his role until OP mentioned he had a meeting with someone above his level to criticise her performance (gasp). OP, you know the situation better than us, but PM’s attitude sounds like gumption at best and mansplaining at worst, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that wasn’t what trigger the PIP.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      That was my take on it. He might have had more authority in his last job, but oh my damn, you do not call a meeting with your superiors to berate them even in a strong matrix organization.

  10. Bookworm*

    Thanks to all the LWs as usual. Am glad to read about the commute one, especially. I can relate and I’m glad it really worked out! Hope the new setup works for you and the organization!! :)

  11. RosyGlasses*

    “The moral here is, don’t judge a volunteer manager unless you’ve walked a mile in their shoes (which let’s face it, they probably had to buy on discount).”

    Love this – I have had to give a lot of grace in recruiting and applying for jobs because I have been the one this year to inadvertently ghost applicants at times because I’ve been stretched so thin and didn’t realize until much later that they never got the rejection email or update. Thankfully it hasn’t been often, but it’s been more than in the past and it’s hard to not feel so guilty for missing someone.

    1. Jessica*

      Wow, I too am really feeling this. Unfortunately there are a lot of things where, from the perspective of the donor or customer or job applicant or whatever outside person thinking “the institution did this to me,” it’s just unforgivably and outrageously bad treatment. But when you think about the human employee whose job it was to represent the institution in that transaction and what they may be dealing with, it’s so much more understandable and sympathetic.

  12. Jessica*

    #3 was weird to me on multiple levels. Who in the world takes a job without knowing (a) who they report to, or (b) if anyone else reports to them? I’m imagining this company having some kind of routine annual review process and this guy submitting reviews for all sorts of higher-ups that he delusionally thinks report to him.

    1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      Even more than that: The employee seems to have an incorrect idea of what their role and responsibilities are, despite protests both in the original and the update that there’s One True Definition of a Project Manager and that OP3’s company is therefore wrong/lying to candidates.

      1. STG*

        There isn’t one true definition of PM but there are a typical set of duties that one would believe falls within a PM’s roles. I think that’s pretty obvious based on the amount of comments on the original post.

        Doesn’t really change the advice though. I think while there may have been some miscommunication, the PM should have enough information about the organization at this point to find some middle ground. The PIP isn’t a good sign of that though.

        1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          “…there are a typical set of duties that one would believe falls within a PM’s roles.”

          May we agree to disagree?

          This reminds me of the earlier post/update about the “secretary” title. Maybe the assumption is that the typical set of duties are support administrative in nature. But, in several governments, a Secretary’s responsibilities are definitely not along the lines of support administration (e.g., Secretary of the Treasury). I don’t think that anyone would be telling governments they’re doing titles wrong based on the fact that a Secretary of State isn’t doing support admin the way many commenters were in the original post regarding a project manager title.

    2. Ori*

      Yeah, I’d expect – if I had reports – to be told who they were etc. I do think this guy wildly overstepped.

  13. B*

    Yeah, I went from a job where I had the freedom and authority to do whatever I wanted to a job where I’m expected to be collaborative and subordinate, and to obey an entirely new set of workplace norms. That transition suuuuuuuuuucks.

  14. Sleet Feet*

    #5 I’d reach out to the employee who left and ask her candidly if anything happened that made her want to leave. It could be a coincidence that she left in month, but she could have been mistreated and you want to nip that on the bud.

  15. Toolate*

    I missed the original post by LW2 (congratulations on finding solutions!) but if I had seen it (and just in case anyone reading this now is dealing with similar scary commute issues) my suggestion would have been to also experiment with different GPS apps. For instance, I’ve found Apple Maps works much better than Google for city driving – does a better job displaying the right level of detail on maps, shows you relevant street information like where the stoplights are, is very clear about which lane to use, allows you to switch to bird’s-eye view, etc.

Comments are closed.